Human rights superheroes

Defending human rights with a poster and a paper sword! These children, whose own community in Taiwan was forcibly evicted, took action for Cambodian housing activist Yorm Bopha during Write for Rights 2013. © Amnesty International

With two prisoners already released and 2.3 million messages sent across 80 countries, Write for Rights 2013 was our most successful global letter-writing campaign ever.

By Amnesty staff member Kristin Hulaas Sunde

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people transformed into human rights superheroes in December 2013. Together, we sent an incredible 2.3 million letters, SMS messages, faxes, petition signatures and tweets defending the human rights of 12 people and communities at risk. Just five years ago, we achieved fewer than 300,000.

How did we do it? By interrupting wintry Russian streets with flashmobs, and collecting signatures while running actual marathons in Guinea. By singing our hearts out at concerts in Brazil and speaking out in government meetings. By doing public stunts in Israel, and creating stunning light projections in Istanbul, Paris and Amsterdam.

Activists in the Czech Republic ran the whole campaign with a budget of just £120, resulting in 14,032 actions. Amnesty Iceland collected 51,465 signatures among a total population of just 350,000 people. And Togo, South Korea and Algeria – along with many other national Amnesty offices – inspired more people to join in this year than ever before. You can see some of them in action in this video:

Since it started as a 24-hour marathon in Poland in 2001, Write for Rights has grown into the world’s biggest human rights event.

Uniting our energies
Many people who took part were based in countries without an Amnesty office. With boundless energy – and often tiny budgets – they invited thousands of others to join in and defend the rights of people they had never met.

One of them was Grégoire Kauli Moket, a lawyer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). His Write for Rights events resulted in an impressive 1,800 letters and signatures.

“I wanted others in the DRC to take part in Write for Rights to defend people at risk through the power of a letter and put pressure on governments,” he told us. “The more we are, the better we can defend human rights.”

Writing for rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, December 2013. © Amnesty International

Grégoire organized five debates at universities and high schools in Lubumbashi, Katanga, in December 2013. “We asked everyone to write solidarity messages to people at risk in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tunisia and the Occupied Palestine Territories. The atmosphere was friendly,” he said. “Although I was far away, I felt close to the victims.”

For thousands of people, Write for Rights is an opportunity to get together with others and stand up for something they believe in. “I felt happy,” Grégoire told us afterwards, “because I had been given an opportunity to call out to others to combine our energies in favour of people whom we don’t know. This is why being part of Amnesty International means so much to me”.

A celebration
The people and communities featured in our campaign are the true superheroes of this yearly event, standing at the forefront of the human rights struggle.

When the joyful news came that two people featured in our campaign had been released – Cambodian housing rights activist Yorm Bopha, and Russian prisoner of conscience Vladimir Akimenkov – Amnesty supporters around the world celebrated.

And many people at risk of human rights abuses have since said our messages means the world to them. “I was so happy,” Yorm Bopha told us, delighted with all the letters and card she received. “It showed that other Cambodians and I were not in it alone.”

“I think the authorities must have felt the pressure,” said Miriam Lopez, who was kidnapped at random, raped and tortured by soldiers in Mexio. “I saw the pictures on my Facebook page and I couldn’t believe that they were really coming from all over the world.”

Hakan Yaman, whose eye was gouged out by police in Turkey last June, has so far received more than 4,200 solidarity letters and cards. “This made me very happy,” he told us. “I thank each and everyone who has taken action and supported us. Reading the solidarity letters particularly moved me.”

And Ihar Tsikhanyuk from Belarus, who was beaten by police for being gay, said: “When I’m left with no hope to fight, I’ll get a letter and the light of hope appears again.”

Together, we showed the world once again that pens and keyboards are mightier than the sword. Thank you for taking part. We’ll do it all again this December. Until then, please stick with us, and keep on defending human rights.

Find out more

Read about all the people and communities featured in Write for Rights 2013 in WIRE, our global campaigning magazine.

Russian prisoner of conscience freed as Write for Rights 2013 reaches 1.4 million actions! (Blog, 19 December 2013)

Write for Rights – the true spirit of Amnesty (Blog, 13 December 2013)

We’ll clench our teeth and go through it (Blog, 12 December 2013)

Posted in Human Rights Defenders and Activists, Individuals at Risk | Tagged | 1 Comment

  1. Keturah Lynn says:

    Thank you so much, for your global collaborative work to identify, validate and uplift persons at risk for – as well as survivors of – international human rights violations. It means hope for humanity – and all life on our planet – to me, to have my own consciousness enlightened about plausible and effective options – life-enhancing social / political, trans-geographic and economic resources – available on behalf of ones who would otherwise be entirely vulnerable to becoming lost and disappeared in the margins of some of life’s most oppressive and violent conditions; to be invited into being aware, by your global organization, is both a necessary life-affirming honor, and humanitarian responsibility which I choose to embrace. Thank you, again, so much, for helping me to know the goodness in our world, in this way. In solidarity and hope, Keturah L. Rogers.

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